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How Good People Skills Can Help You Be a Better Designer

What skills do I need to become a graphic designer?

  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Respect
  • Linguistic Empathy
  • Adaptability
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Patience

Graphic design is a competitive business requiring knowledge about a variety of programs, like Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign. Additionally, familiarity with web design and advertising are crucial to success.

However, it may surprise you to know that some of the most valuable skills in the design space are good, old-fashioned people skills. In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of social interaction, the design space, and how it affects you.

Collaboration

As a designer, you’ll create art for businesses that are not necessarily artistic. This means you and your client may have some differing visions for the final product. This process can be complicated, as you both have a stake in the design.

However, you can collaborate by finding common ground. If, for example, a dental office wants a monster logo rather than a tooth logo, ask for some examples of why they chose that direction. In turn, show examples of your work so the client knows what to expect.

Communication

Few fields require the level of communication that goes into design work. Expressing an idea can be difficult, so a broad vocabulary and a wide knowledge of concepts can aid in your professional interactions. Not only is it important to communicate ideas effectively, but as a designer, you are often responsible for communicating your price.

When taking on a project, remember to discuss your pricing goals clearly. Sure, this is your passion, but most importantly, it’s your livelihood. You determine your pricing, and costs ultimately depend on two things: the project at hand and the quality of work you offer.

Have an open dialogue with your client. Not only will this provide an opportunity to address conflicts, but this is also a time to look for red flags. Once you’ve communicated, assess if the client is a good fit; if not, they may not be the client for you.

An excerpt from the popular blog, Clients from Hell

Respect

If you’ve ever worked in food or retail, you know how much people vary in expectations and values. Though your client isn’t buying a burger or sweater from you, it’s a safe bet they have differences in the way they operate. This means you’ll have to respect their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. And if they hold an opinion you can’t budge on, you may want to refer the client instead.

For example, let’s say a client approaches you. He wants a design for an upcoming summer camp. If you personally aren't into summer camps, you can simply illustrate the design and keep your personal opinions to yourself. However, if you wrote your thesis on the detrimental effects of campfire songs, you may want to skip this client. In short, respect others’ differences and don’t compromise on your beliefs.

Linguistic Empathy

Consider the two following sentences. “George gave Sally a gift.” vs. “Sally received a gift from George.” These two sentences are pretty much the same, with one major difference—we’re learning the same information but in relation to two different people. Our interest in the characters change; we care more about George with the first sentence, and more about Sally with the second. This all comes down to something called linguistic empathy.

To put it simply, it matters how you arrange your words. Consider how a message may sound before sending it. Is the tone condescending? Annoyed? Accusatory? “I haven’t heard from you,” sounds a lot nicer than, “You never responded to me.” You may be an artist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be a wordsmith, too.

Adaptability

We’ve all had a deadline move up unexpectedly. The end of the week becomes this afternoon, and that can be pretty daunting. While you can’t (and shouldn’t) work your tail off for a fickle client, it’s good to adapt when possible.

Keep in mind that adapting doesn’t mean compromising, nor does it mean killing yourself to finish a project. Instead, consider how you can become a little more flexible while still keeping your priorities in order.

If a client wants something a week before the deadline, maybe respond with a polite but firm offer. “It looks like we discussed next week as the final deadline, and I do have work for other clients to complete before then. While I’m unable to move the deadline to this Friday, I understand you need this soon. How about next Wednesday instead?”

Conflict Resolution

Unfortunately, you and your clients will disagree sometimes. Payment disagreements and rejected designs are all part of the business. Because of this, you’ll need to keep your cool by using conflict resolution.

When it comes to conflict resolution, you want to find your inner peace. Arguments can be insanely frustrating, and stressing over a disagreement is neither healthy nor productive. First, take a moment to assess the situation. Why are you having the conflict? Giving words to your feelings is a great way to feel calmer, as well as understand both sides. Second, take a break. Go for a walk. Eat an ice cream. Do something that will make you feel like yourself.

Finally, when you’re ready, address the situation using calm but firm language. Propose solutions when possible. If you’re disagreeing through text or email, offer to meet for coffee. If your client is having difficulty understanding something, ask questions and allow questions to be asked. Then, try explaining something in simple terms.

How simple? Pretend you’re helping your grandma create a Facebook—use very basic (but still respectful) language. Chances are your client doesn’t understand the design business like you, so be the person that helps them understand.

Patience

Even if you’re the best version of yourself, there’s no guarantee your client will be the best client. Because of this, you’ll need patience. In the same way conflict resolution requires inner peace, patience requires self-care. Our patience is limited when we are overworked, underfed, and sleep-deprived. Make sure you’re tending to your own needs first, rather than someone else’s. Only then can you take a deep breath and patiently do what needs to be done.

This means you may have to do more mock-ups, redesign something you love, and even send several emails saying the same thing. Just make sure you’re not spreading yourself too thin to do it.

Conclusion

While a broad knowledge of the design sphere is invaluable, we’re nothing without our clients. This relationship allows us to do what we love, so promoting a healthy working environment is important. As you meet with your next client, remember to exercise the above steps. You may not have a perfect client, but you can be a perfect designer.

Kaitlin Westbrook is a content writer who covers business, creative content, professional writing, and more. When she's not writing, she enjoys movies, baking, and her Pomeranian.

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